CHAPTER 17 THE GORBACHOV REFORMS AND THE REVOLT OF KARABAKH

World attention returned to Armenia from the beginning of 1988 when the Karabakh issue again came to the fore. Besides Gorbachov’s perestroika, the liberation movement of Karabakh was given impetus by the materials published by the Karabakh authors, residing in Yerevan. The Czech historian Miroslav Hroch, investigating the development of national liberation movements in Eastern European countries, bases his conclusions on close imperical investigations on smaller Eastern European peoples. Hroch proposes a three-stage evolution of nationalist movements. Phase A occurs when a smaller number of scholars first demonstrate “a passionate concern for the study of the language, the culture, the history of the oppressed nationality. Phase B involves “the fermentation process of national consciousness” during which a larger number of patriotic agitators diffuse national ideas. Phase C is the full national revival, when the broad masses have been swept up into the nationalist movement.1

The USSR had experienced not only years of stagnation but also a frusterating absence of able and stable leadership. Weakness in the centre had enabled the local ethnic and regional mafias within the party-state apparatus to increase their power. The republics were essentially ruled by national mafias, their reach extending throughout society. Transcaucasia and Central Asia in particular, promoted a corrupt system of patronage, favouritism and the widespread practice of bribe-taking and payoffs. Moreover, the USSR was bogged down in a draining war in Afghanistan and faced an aggress: vely hostile American president and the CIA, which aimed at a weakening of Soviet power.

“In order to restart the Soviet economic engine and restore the county’s position internationally, Gorbachov needed first to build a political base for his programme of reform, not least in the non-Russian republics”,2 comments R.G. Suny.

The history of nations show that one of the supreme ironies of history is the fact that not all progressive reforms are destined to success, they may have tragic results for nations. “Probably the most concentrated opposition to Gorbachov’s leadership and his policies”, writes Marth Brill Olcott, “has come from the party and state bureaucracies in the national republics.”3

Gorbachov was caught between nationality leaderships that opposed his reforms, and intellectual and popular forces, most of which, once they overcame their suspicion of the Kremlin, were interested in the general liberalizing thrust of Moscow’s new policies. In nearly Transcaucasian and Central Asian Republic, a series of purges eliminated the top leaders, though not always without resistence.4 One of the leaders of Armenian national movement Vazgen Manukian commented, “When Reagan introduced his project of the star war, and noted that a new technological contest was set in motion, to which the Soviet Union could not resist, we understood that it would bring the Soviet Union to destruction. In contrast to China, which is homogeneous, to Poland and Hungary, the USSR had in itself the national problem and any reforms would lead to the revival of liberation movements, which in its turn would mark the collapse of the USSR.”5

At first the ideas of “perestroika and glasnost” appeared to open up hopeful prospects for the Karabakh Armenians. But some time later, sensing the threats of the Gorbachov’s reforms in the environment of unstable development of events inside the state, the Armenians suspected that the “perestroika” could be used against them by Baku authorities. “If one day the trucks arrive accompanied by the militia and internal troops and force us to take our belongings and migrate to Armenia, what shall we do?”, worried the Armenians in Stepanakert. On November 28, 1987 the first Karabakh official delegation left for Moscow. Meanwhile signatures were being collected in Armenia for the reattachment of Karabakh to the Motherland. The second delegation arrived in Moscow on January 7, 1988. An Armenian economist, a native of Baku Igor Muradian was among the delegates. Soon he became an important figure. The delegation was accepted by the Chairman of the Presidium of Supreme Soviet of the USSR P. Demichev and then by the chairman of the National Relations of the Central Committee V. Mikhailov. Both of them offered to wait for the forthcoming Party Conference in June 1988, to discuss state policy toward the nationalities, and the Karabakh question in particular. If in 1960s the authorities turned a deaf ear to the Karabakh appeal, in 1988 they promised to do their best to solve the problem.7 In February the delegation of Armenian intellectuals left for Moscow and handed over new appeals, letters and resolutions to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The eighty thousand Armenian signatures represented as if a result of a referendum.

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